Gender Differences in Relational and Physical Aggression

By Burton, Leslie A.; Hafetz, Jessica et al. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Gender Differences in Relational and Physical Aggression


Burton, Leslie A., Hafetz, Jessica, Henninger, Debra, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


A sample of 134 (93 female, 41 male) university students were evaluated with measures of relational and physical aggression, as well as measures of the five personality factors (NEO Five-Factor Inventory; Costa & McCrae, 1992), depression and anxiety (Beck Depression Inventory; Beck, 1987 and Anxiety Inventory; Beck, 1990), and general emotional understanding and functioning (Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory; Bar-On, 1997). Gender differences were found such that the men reported more physical aggression and less Extraversion, with trends for less Neuroticism and less Agreeableness, than the women (NEO-FFI). Additionally, the women had higher Bar-On Interpersonal overall factor scores, including higher scores for the component Empathy, Social Responsibility, and Interpersonal Relationship subscales, than the men. Relational and physical aggression showed different patterns of association with other personality and emotional measures for men and women. In men, higher physical aggression was associated with lower Agreeableness and lower Extraversion. In women, higher physical aggression was associated with higher Conscientiousness, more depression, lower Bar-On EQI Stress Management and higher adaptability. Relational aggression was associated with lower Agreeableness and a lower Bar-On EQI overall score for both men and women. In men, higher relational aggression was additionally associated with more Neuroticism. In women, higher relational aggression was also associated with lower Conscientiousness, and lower Bar-On EQI Interpersonal factor scores.

Keywords: relational aggression, physical aggression, gender, aggression, NEO Five-Factor Inventory, depression, anxiety, Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory.

Gender differences in aggression have frequently been reported, such that men and boys show more aggression than women and girls, especially in terms of physical aggression (e.g., Archer & Coyne, 2005; Eagly & Steifen, 1986; Feingold, 1994; Hyde, 1984, 2005; Moffitt, Caspi, Rutter, & Suva, 2001; Reinisch & Sanders, 1986). For example, a relevant study by Buss and Perry (1992) on a normative sample used a questionnaire that evaluated physical aggression, verbal aggression, hostility, and anger, and found that men reported more physical aggression, and also more verbal aggression than women. Physical aggression was strongly associated with traits of impulsiveness, assertiveness, and competitiveness, as was verbal aggression, but to a lesser degree.

These gender differences in aggression occur in the context of much literature indicating gender differences in many aspects of personality and emotion (reviewed by Costa, Terraciano, & McCrae, 2001; Feingold, 1994; Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974; Moffit et al., 2001). Several studies have evaluated gender differences using the five-factor model of personality. Costa, Terraciano and McCrae found that women reported more neuroticism, agreeableness, warmth, and openness to feelings, and men reported more assertiveness and openness to ideas. In a meta-analysis, Feingold found that women showed more extraversion, tender-mindedness, trust, and anxiety, and that men showed higher assertiveness and self-esteem. A variety of other studies have shown that, in the general population, women report more anxiety and depression than do men, and lower self-esteem (see Feingold, 1994; Kling, Hyde, Showers, & Buswell, 1999; NolenHoeksma, 1987). In terms of psychopathology, women have a higher frequency of anxiety disorders, major depression, dysthymic disorder, eating disorders, and borderline personality disorder and men have a higher frequency of antisocial personality disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

Relational aggression has been described as the kind of aggression which is not physical, but does harm to others via manipulation, social inclusion/exclusion, and damaging of relationships (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). It thus overlaps with verbal aggression, in which the means to do harm is verbal, and indirect aggression, which is defined as a covert kind of aggression (see Archer & Coyne, 2005; Bettencourt & Miller, 1996; Bjorkqvist, Osterman, & Kaukiainen, 1992; Bjorkqvist, Osterman, & Lagerspetz, 1994; Buss, 1961; Werner & Crick, 1999). …

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Gender Differences in Relational and Physical Aggression
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